Many lakes adore the world scene and this is true for India also which is home to many lakes but when one utters the word DAL LAKE from the mouth, an image comes in front of that of a vast and sprawling body of water with so many houseboats parked in rows and rows and numerous Shikaras ready to take you for a ride in the lake, the lake which is the world of its own in itself. From the Boulevard road you can not gauge the mammoth scale of the lake. It is only when Shiakara wallahs take you in the arms of lake that you get to know its beauty. If we compare the scale of lake with any normal colony of a city, numerous lanes of a colony is comparable to many streams in the lake (Jaise kisi locality ki galiyan waise hi DAL LAKE ki galiyan, Mehaz farak Paani aur Zamin ka.…)
Numerous mobile Shikara shops welcome you when you are sitting comfortably in your Shikara. Shikara wallah even act as unofficial guide for you and enthralls you with all the stories of Film Stars who stayed in so and so Houseboat, about some rich man from Mumbai to give him such amount of tip etc.
From the Shikara one can watch admire the beauty of Shankracharya temple located on the hill top, one can also look at Hari Parbat, one can see the sign board on Boulevard road indicating Hotel Lalit and Hotel Oberoi and who can forget the exquisite structure of Vivanta , new signage of luxury from Taj group. And… behold! one observes all these landmarks when you are on outer DAL (we can say, on the main road…). Here only, mobile Shikara markets come around you at least from three sides as they are going to escort you , common one being the persons selling SAFFRON in the weightiness of 2 gram, 5 gram, 10 gram as this commodity is quite expensive.
SAAHAB PHOTO… PHOTO KHINCHWA LIJIYE NA… ABHI DE DENGE… is the subject matter of another mobile Shikara shop luring the tourists towards them to have a memory in form of photograph in traditional Kashmiri dresses. Another surprise on the outer DAL is that of 2-3 Shikara shopkeepers selling traditional softy icecream from that ice-box like structure. Don’t worry if you feel thirsty and you have not got your potable water with you as Shikara wallah will take you the corner cafe type structure on the lake selling everything from Lays to Tropicana to Kinley to Frooti along with traditional drink of Kashmir (KEHWA).This is what I call intermixing of modernity with traditional values or one can say unique marketing skill.
HOUSEBOATS: For many a tourist just staying in the houseboat itself of DAL NAGIN and JHELUM could be the driving point to visit Kashmir but the rider attached is that you have to belong to upper middle class or rich category of tourists by Indian standards. Tourists from western countries might be having different yardstick as one become witness to numerous headcounts of foreigners sipping Kehwa or simply enjoying the ambiance sitting outside their houseboats waving towards tourists enjoying their Shikara rides. What attracts you instantly is rich plethora of exquisite names given to these houseboats and sheer woodwork done on these houseboats compels you to admire and admire and just admire the beauty.
JOAN OF ARC, HELEN OF TROY, ALEXANDRIA, DREAMGIRL, SHEILAAN, HILL VIEW QUEEN, ROYAL GLORY, MASACOT, MONALISA, KATHERINE, VIZMAL, DILRUBA are some of the names given to these houseboats and not without any reason. The naming before 1955 had been done by the guests from western countries thus bearing those types of names and some hardcore lovers of their native land give beautiful Kashmiri names to their abode of dream.
1. It is said that the houseboat SHEILAAN was named after two daughters of a British tourist, SHEILA and ANN.
2. The legendary singer George Harrison of Beatles fame lived in the CLERMONT houseboat in 1966 and what he did… learnt Sitar from another legend Pandit Ravi Shankar on the tranquil waters of DAL.
One might hear bad experience of staying at some houseboats but these instances are rare and one certainly experience this once in a lifetime opportunity of staying in a houseboat or some persons given the affordability factor.
FROM OUTER DAL to INNER DAL through NARROW STREAM...
When one is busy enjoying the beauty of houseboats, suddenly Shikara wallah takes you by surprise and DAL changes into a narrow stream and one enters the inner DAL which on the first look fails to infuse you with energy as this area has got small shopkeepers on the banks selling vegetables, fruits, kirana and other daily routine commodities. This is the area inhabited by the common people who cateres to the people living on the lake as tailor, Shikara mender, vegetable seller, corner tea stall owner etc.. This exactly is not a tourist area but one gets to see the actual life of the people away from the gritty nitty of tourism. Common people full of common aspirations wearing tired and sullen faces (a result of not so good economic condition) dominates the scene. Shikara wallah then brings you to Meena market, a group of 4-5 showrooms selling Shawls and other woolen stuffs, carpets, Sarees and all. One argues with them that we do not want to buy anything but the common refrain is EK BAAR DEKH TO LIJIYE... and one ends up spending some amount there on the stuff. One wonders what happens in extreme winters (about 4 months in this part of the world) when no Shikaras can ply on DAL.… Tough Na…… Then these people get engage themselves in Shawl weaving industry and Gents then go to plains to sell Shawls and other woven stuff prepared in the cottage industry of Kashmir with some of the factories located in the lake itself.
Unique special point of the life on DAL is the morning floating vegetable market which starts the business at about 4.30 A.M though I missed the scene as none of us had the courage to go to DAL at this wee hour.
Now one sore point about the place.
DAL has also become polluted like our major rivers for so many reasons. One gets the glimpse of this pollution while in Shikara. Eutrophication has become part of DAL though the state government has got cleaning project on especially during the tourist season. One can see the heavy metallic boats clearing the weeds and trying to restore DAL TO ITS PRISTINE GLORY..…. Neverthless DAL is DAL and one can hum all along… YEH DEKH KE DIL JHOOMA… LI PYAAR NE ANGDAAI… DEEWANA HUA BADAL…
A. There are about 7 points on the Boulevard road from where one can have a Shikara for ride. 4 points are on the main Boulevard road and most tourists throng those points and 3 points are a bit away from the rush hence bargaining points.
B. In 2011, The rate for about one and a half hour Shikara ride was Rs. 300/ for a 4 seater Shikara.
C. Be ready for a tip (BAKSHISH) after the ride and itna to banta hi hai.
SHABBA KHAIR till next post.
first photograph of map of Dal lake courtesy website www.searchkashmir.org